Respondeat superior is a legal doctrine under which an employer may be held vicariously liable for the torts of an employee that are committed within the course and scope of employment.  The employer’s liability stems not from the fault of the employer, but from the public policy notion that an employer should have to bear liability for acts committed by its employees within the scope of their employment as a cost of doing business.

There are two different tests for respondeat superior liability under Minnesota law – one for an employee’s intentional misconduct and one for an employee’s negligent misconduct.

Respondeat Superior Liability for Intentional Misconduct:  An employer may be held liable for the intentional misconduct of its employees when:  (1) the source of the harm is related to the duties of the employee; and (2) the harm occurs within work-related limits of time and place.  The critical inquiry to determine if the source of the harm is related to the duties of the employee is whether the employee’s acts were foreseeable.  Fahrendorff ex rel. Fahrendorff v. North Homes, Inc., 597 N.W.2d 905, 911–913 (Minn. 1999).

Respondeat Superior Liability for Negligent Misconduct:  An employer may be held liable for negligent acts of an employee committed in the course and scope of employment when:  (1) the conduct was to some degree in furtherance of the employer’s interests; (2) the employee was authorized to perform the type of conduct; (3) the conduct occurred substantially within the employer’s authorized time and space restrictions; and (4) the employer should reasonably have foreseen the conduct.  Snilsberg v. Lake Washington Club, 614 N.W.2d 738, 745 (Minn. Ct. App. 2000).

Takeaways:  Respondeat superior liability is one of the key reasons why employers should take care to make good hiring and retention decisions.  Employers who hire or retain employees who are likely to engage in intentional misconduct or negligent acts may be subject to vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.